Updated: Dec 11, 2020
By Ilina Kabra
Image via New Straits Times
In today’s world, there are over seven billion people, people of distinct races and ethnicities, each one with unique backgrounds and experiences. Living in such a diverse world, one would hope that a common ground exists where every citizen can respect the individuality of humankind and treat each other as equals. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go for this global respect to be achieved. Within societies, there tends to be a standard of an ideal person, someone who embodies perfection and is a role model that everyone should strive to emulate. In today’s world, this idealized persona tends to be male. Though females make up 50% of society, we are not seen as fitting this perfect cultural mold in the same way that men are. It is a philosophy that is set up for failure. What societies take for granted are the mutual imperfections that make us unique. People of all genders need to acknowledge that we each bring distinct and valuable contributions to society. Collectively, these contributions will make us more accepting of cultural norms and each other.
As a global citizen of the future, I find myself touched by the issue of gender inequality at present. In the current global setting, which promotes equal social, economic, and cultural rights, one would expect this issue to have vanished. Unfortunately, that is far from the truth. Is gender equality a myth? Gender equality implies the equal representation of all genders in all aspects of society. At present, it does not take into account that genders have different necessities, yet the value and respect they receive should be equivalent. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 established “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family...freedom, justice, and peace in the world”.
Today, our basic human rights are being challenged by major world powers. The fact that basic human rights are being questioned is shameful and should be regarded as a crime of injustice and discrimination at the highest level. For women, the desire to live, learn, and work in a world with equal dignity is essential to basic welfare. The right to vote has recently been addressed again in the last five years. In Saudi Arabia, women cast their ballots for the first time in 2015 in a municipal election. In 2018, the nation finally granted women the right to drive. How is this acceptable? The automobile was created in 1885. One hundred thirty-five years later, women are finally experiencing the freedom to explore their world in a car. Reproductive health rights are still an additional area of gender discrimination. Many legislative guidelines regarding a woman’s body are drawn up by men with disregard for the female opinion and experience. Recently, Alabama attempted to further restrict women's right to an abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. The idea that a majority of men have created laws that dictate what a woman can do with her body and decide what she needs is outrageous in this day and age. In contrast, the state of California recently proposed to lift the tax on diapers and menstrual products. Gavin Newsom, Governor of California, was quoted as saying, “It is remarkable how tone-deaf most men are on this topic, and our politics are on this topic.” This is progress in the right direction. We are slowly advancing on a more favorable path towards gender equality.
As a petite girl of Indian origin, I am proud to say that my family has many high achieving, accomplished, empowering female role models. Typically, from the early to the mid-20th century, Indian women were expected to marry between thirteen to sixteen, manage the household, bear children, and serve their husband and his family. My paternal grandmother experienced this first hand. She was married at the age of sixteen and had her first child by seventeen. This was fairly normal in the mid-1960s. Despite these social norms, my maternal grandmother was the first to pursue a college-level education, against most of her family’s wishes. She did not marry until she was 23, which was scandalous at the time. Both sets of my grandparents left India in the mid-1960s and never went back except for visits. My maternal grandmother embraced many of the gender freedoms in her new homeland, the United States. She encouraged my mother to pursue her higher education. My mother, with the support of her dedicated family, persevered and became the first female in her family to receive a graduate degree: a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology. My mother’s determination has inspired me to pursue my passions of writing and music.
From the outside looking in, India’s patriarchal society lacks the understanding of a woman's potential to contribute to society. As a country of over 1 billion people, India is the world’s largest democracy. However, women are not as respected as they should be. Women and young girls are still subjected to heinous sexual attacks. Women are not thought of as equal contributors to Indian society. This is demonstrated by the dowry system, which promotes the idea that girls are useless, a burden to society that plays no role in ensuring good fortune in a family. Many times, girls are put up for adoption because they are not considered a sign of prosperity.
Helping to expand awareness in a society like India is about teaching young women to unlock their potential in a male-dominated society. My main goal is to set an example for other Indian girls. I hope to pursue a career in supporting gender equality through education and awareness of women beginning at a young age. Together, we can learn from our differences and pave a better, more stable road to the future. We can learn to see the value that each gender contributes to society. It is the lesson of tolerance towards each other that will advance us.
Written by writer Ilina Kabra